When I was in elementary school in the eighties, being read to in class was such a treat — and something I really miss. The weekly reading hour that I looked forward to the most was when my favorite librarian came to read a few chapters from a Roald Dahl story. (And over the years, she read them all.) I could hardly wait to hear the next prank Mrs. Twit would play on Mr. Twit in The Twits. Another favorite, The Witches, remains one of the stories from my childhood that really opened me up to the magic of reading. Dahl’s whimsical yet macabre and darkly comic stories piqued my imagination for the first time in those years, and — being a shy, quiet kid — showed me that anything was possible.
September 13 is Roald Dahl’s birthday, and 2016 marks 100 years since his birth. To celebrate, here are seven stories about the bestselling novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, fighter pilot, and British spy.
1. “Great Missenden Plays Itself.” (Michael Hingston, Hazlitt, August 2016)
The village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, a 45-minute train ride from London, is where Dahl lived for the last 35 years of his life. If you wander its streets, you’ll find that some of his most famous tales, from The BFG to Matilda, are set here.
2. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 50.” (Lucy Mangan, The Guardian, August 2014)
Mangan tells the story behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: how the book took shape, the state of the publishing industry and genre of children’s books at the time, and the evolution of the story on the screen and stage.
3. “Roald Dahl on the Death of His Daughter.” (Donald Sturrock, The Telegraph, February 2015)
In an edited excerpt of the biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, Sturrock describes two family tragedies: an accident leaving his four-month-old son, Theo, with a shattered skull, later to develop hydrocephalus; and the death of his eldest daughter, Olivia, from measles encephalitis.
4. “In Which We Consider the Macabre Unpleasantness of Roald Dahl.” (Alex Carnevale, This Recording, June 2011)
“In everything good there is also something bad, and this was not only the theme Dahl took up in much of his work for both children and adults, but it was also true of him personally.” Carnevale chronicles the darker side of Dahl, the man.
5. “Beyond ‘Wonka’: They Want Every Kid to Know Roald Dahl’s World.” (Michael Paulson, The New York Times, August 2016)
“With publishing shifting a lot, there is still, I think, a huge desire to bring his kind of vivid and mischievous world into other mediums…” Led by Dahl’s 30-year-old grandson, Luke Kelly, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate aims to introduce the author’s universe to a new generation of kids and transform itself into a story company for the digital age.
6. “My Years with Roald, by the ‘Love of His Life.’” (Elizabeth Day, The Guardian, November 2008)
Felicity Dahl, the author’s second wife (and with whom he had an 11-year affair during his first marriage to actress Patricia Neal), talks about their seven years together.
7. “Roald Dahl’s Twisted, Overlooked Stories for Adults.” (David L. Ulin, The New Yorker, July 2016)
“As with his books for children, his adult stories are marked by conscience, by a moral center that extends beyond mere payback, leading to moments of unexpected depth.” Ulin explores Dahl’s unconventional, lesser-known adult short stories.